One of, if not the defining masterpieces of Italian neorealism, Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Theives) is the first film I’ve seen in the post war sub genre which emerged from a country on its knees in the wake of a brutal Fascist regime. If there are other films in the movement that are half as good as this one, it won’t be my last dip into the genre. Vittorio De Sica’s film is set on the streets of Rome in 1948. With work scarce and hunger raging, a man tries desperately to secure work in an unfavourable job market. He manages to secure a job with adequate pay as someone who puts up film posters but when a thief steals his bike, something he needs for the job, his family are left penniless and he has to wander the streets, searching for his bike amongst a city of millions.
De Sica used ordinary people in the acting roles but it’s difficult to tell that from the performances. Lead actor Lamberto Maggiorani is superb as the man at his wits end following the crime and his miniature adult son, Enzo Staiola comes close to stealing the whole movie. The situation the family find themselves in makes for compelling viewing and the themes and imagery thrown up by the movie add to its impressive overall effect. I wasn’t surprised to read that in Sight & Sound’s first ‘greatest films of all time’ poll in 1952, Bicycle Thieves was ranked at number one. The most recent poll in 2012 ranked it at number 33 all time and my own algorithmic study ranked it at 35.